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HOUSTON-Weingarten Realty Investors is planning a $15-million expansion of the signature 275,000-sf River Oaks Shopping Center. The project calls for razing a nearly vacant 22,000-sf structure and redeveloping the site with two multi-level buildings, totaling 60,000 sf, and a 400-space parking garage.

The redevelopment work will get under way after midyear, halt temporarily for the holiday shopping season and ramp up again in early 2008. The project’s completion is ticketed for 2009. Weingarten has owned the landmark center at 1964 W. Gray St. since 1972.

In line with the redevelopment, the local REIT is finalizing a long-term lease with Barnes & Noble Inc. for 34,000 sf of the 60,000-sf expansion. “This will be the first large-box anchor in that center, other than the Kroger,” Patty Bender, Weingarten’s SVP and leasing director, tells GlobeSt.com. “Before now, we never had the ability to put any tenant in there larger than 10,000 sf.” She says the center’s quoted rate is $35 per sf, net.

Weingarten and the 1930s-era River Oaks Shopping Center received a great deal of attention last summer as rumors circulated about the potential demolition of River Oaks Theater, a first-run venue. “The theater has a long-term lease,” Bender stresses. “There’s nothing planned there for the time being.”

Weingarten intends to preserve the curved art deco and moderne architecture of the asset. The two multi-level add-ons will be reserved for upscale shops, restaurants and offices. The project includes upgrading utility infrastructure, creating park-like common areas and adding outdoor art.

Brand + Allen Architects Inc.’s local office is the architect of record. A general contractor has not been selected, but Tribble & Stephens, also in Houston, is the project consultant.

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